10 Ideas for Professional Development on the Field

by Amy Young on May 13, 2016

Luke 252

When I was a freshman in college, my university had the in-coming students come a week early for orientation. During that week I attended a campus ministry get-to-know-you event. From the outside there was nothing overtly special about it: picnic in a public park.

But did I mention I was in COLLEGE. I was a COLLEGE student. I was practically an ADULT.

(Did I also mention I chose an out-of-state school and I knew no one in the state. I was awash in new relationships and trying to be cool enough to make friends and the humidity was killing me.)

That picnic is one of my vivid memories. I can remember the covering of the picnic area. I remember how I felt. I remember the cute boy I hoped I’d get to know. But what I remember most is the message the campus minister gave.

He quoted Luke 2:52. Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and found favor with man and God. As freshman, Mike encouraged us to be like Jesus who valued growing intellectually, physically, and relationally—with people and God. The seed of intentionality was planted in me.

Fast-forward about ten years when I was in my mid-to-late twenties. I had started my career as a teacher and was on a professional track when I moved overseas for a two-year commitment.

It was assumed (by me, I admit) that just going overseas to teach was professionally enhancing. It was a different era, so I don’t say this with any blame, but the idea of professional development wasn’t a major focus.

But then two years turned into three and five and eight and even I had to admit it looked like a “career.” (Though the free spirit in me resisted this label like I was being chased by an ax murderer.)

Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and found favor with man and God.

I am so grateful for A Life Overseas and the articles and comments related to:

  • Taking care of our bodies—the role and importance of food, sleep, exercise, and physical self-care.
  • Taking care of our relationships—with spouses, local friends, children, teammates, and family back home.
  • Taking care of our relationship—with God and tending to our souls.

Here’s the pitfall we can inadvertently create: just by being overseas we are working in “interesting locations” that will professionally enhance us. For a season it is true, but what happens when it turns into a, um, career.

Three points I want to make before moving on:

  1. Every adult on the field is a professional. A profession is what you invest the lion’s share of your “work” time and effort into. Let’s not confuse location (inside versus outside of the home) with professional/non-professional in this post and where I want this discussion to go.

  2. Many organizations will invest in the professional development of those in public leadership.

  3. Every adult on the field needs professional development.


Because I had started off in a professional environment that built professional development into the system, I was used to taking professional development cues from the system. But most agencies or those serving independently do not have a strong professional development track for non-senior level leaders. This is said, not with blame, but neutrally like “the sky is above us.” So what are we to do?

Here are three principles when it comes to professional development:

1. We are to value professional development for ourselves, not expect our organization to provide it for us. How much do you budget per month or annually for professional development? If the answer is “zero,” start to budget a small amount. Be willing to spend time, money, and effort.

2. We need to broaden the idea of professional development. Most of us who live, work, and serve overseas are multi-professional people. We might have our main profession, be that mothering, educating, translating, book keeping, ITing, or any other ways we work. But we also have to be able to communicate our work, improve our people skills, and grow in our understanding of how to use technology.

3. We can view professional development as life-long. You may be with your organization for two years, twenty, or forty, but you are going to be with yourself longer than that. Keep growing.

I was telling a friend yesterday about this post and she asked me, “What about millenials?” Her question confused me. She clarified, “Do you really think millenials will be willing to invest money in this area?”

Hello millenials, I know you’re reading this! I love millenials and without hesitation, I answered, “I do. From my experience, they are hungry to grow. They are open to input.”

Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and found favor with man and God.

Professional development is not about a stage of life but a mindset, a willingness to grow, and can take on many faces. Here are ten ideas to professionally develop on the field:

  1. Attend a professional conference.
  2. Read a book a month, a quarter, or a year with an eye for professional development. Yesterday I bought a book about mentoring.
  3. Invest in tools to support your work—cooking is not my part of my profession, it is part of my survival. If you compared my kitchen to others, you could easily see who is professional and who isn’t.
  4. Invest in skills to support your work. Need better photos for your blog or newsletters? Take an online course. Need to improve on public speaking? You can work on that too.
  5. Listen to podcasts. Moms this one is for you. Leader, I love this one. Want to communicate your message better? Listen to this series (only seven podcasts).
  6. Join or form a private Facebook group — and then participate!
  7. Write down five areas you want to grow in. Find someone you admire for each area and learn from them.
  8. Watch a movie—in part for entertainment—but with an eye for a specific area such as fostering a team, leadership, character development, or perseverance.
  9. Do research—search google, look on pinterest, watch TED talks
  10. View yourself as a multi-professional person.

Lest this post sounds like one big “Work harder, work faster, work is awesome!!!” post, let’s remember where it started. At a picnic. With friends. Having fun.

I write to you what I wish had been said to me many years ago: “You can be responsible for your professional development. Living overseas doesn’t mean this is an area you have to count as part of the cost. Like Jesus, you can grow in wisdom and stature and find favor with man and God. Keep growing. Life is hard. Invest in people. Invest in your profession. Have fun. Jesus delights in you. His delight will never wane. Never. ”

Share in the comments what you do for professional development. Which one of these ideas are you going to try this week?

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About Amy Young

When Amy Young first moved to China she knew three Chinese words: hello, thank you and watermelon. Often the only words needed in life, right?! She is known to jump in without all the facts and blogs regularly at The Messy Middle. The tag is “where grace and truth reside.” People tend to be drawn to grace, grace, grace OR truth, truth, truth. Either side doesn’t require much discipline, do they? Instead they foster auto-pilot living. But real life happens … in the messy middle, with both. It can be maddening, right? But also exhilarating! She also works extensively with Velvet Ashes as content creator and curator, book club host, and connection group coordinator. Her book Looming Transitions: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service was written with you in mind. It also has two companion resources: 22 Activities for Families in Transitions and Looming Transitions Workbook.
  • Elizabeth Trotter

    Great ideas Amy! I love learning, so of course I love this 🙂 But more importantly, I love that you started with Jesus and extended it to us. We can never go wrong with Him as a starting point 🙂

    • I love learning too :). What I want to encourage people is that learning can take many forms and doesn’t have to look just like “school.” AND can cover lots of areas — homemaking, spiritual, life-skills, and technical knowledge. I love this topic so could go on and on :).

  • This is so good! We’ve been purposing to do this on our own this year. I’m taking a marketing class online and Jeremy has been listening to podcasts. Reading books and just diving in to this season of learning. My goal is to add more French to that development list. I’ve got to study that vocab!

    • Now I’m curious about the marketing class!! Did you listen to the podcast series by Donald Miller and the Story Brand I linked above? That series had me tweaking my home page and my about page on my blog 🙂

  • Ruthie

    Great post, Amy, and full of great ideas! I firmly believe we should never stop learning, and being on the field has opened my eyes to the many skills I need and want to keep improving in. I started an online course earlier this year and am loving it! I knew if I went back to school I would want to study something along the lines of counseling, but finding the “right” (and affordable) course was the challenge. Thankfully, God pointed me in the right direction through some fellow missionaries. Consulting others on the field is also an excellent way of learning of about other avenues of professional development.

    • Ah, great point Ruthie! There are so many resources all around us that it can be easy to overlook the ones right in front of us :). I’m glad you’ve found a course that is working for your interests, budget, and is a good fit!

  • Dalaina May

    I’ll add the suggestion of grad school. I love overseas but am enrolled at Fuller Seminary in their masters of global leadership. It’s all online except for 2 two-week intensive over a 4 year period. One class per quarter and you cannot apply unless you’ve been in full time ministry for 5 years. It’s a program for developing people who are already leaders. Very international and doable on a full time ministry schedule. I have 4 kids under 8 and very involved in non-profit work and it is manageable. I am close to done and have been so impressed with the high quality of classes and professors. The best part is that you start with a cohort of other ministry professionals and do all of your core classes with them. Mine have become dear friends even though we are scattered across the globe. Feel free to ask me questions about it too. (Sorry for sounding like a commercial, but I cannot say enough good things about it.)

    • Great addition Dalaina! First of all, I love Fuller. Second, I can’t believe all you’re able to get done on your with all you’ve got going and then to love it so much you want others to know about it. That’s great! One question I think people might have is, how have you been able to swing the finances. When I went to grad school, thankfully my supporters paid the tuition and I paid for books and other small things out of money I had saved up.

      • Dalaina May

        There are a lot of scholarships for people already working overseas. We’ve had about half of our tuition paid by different scholarships. The rest we took out loans for. I can see a good option of raising support to cover the rest, but we didn’t bother. We might try to raise a little more when we have to start paying back.

  • Katie Cranfill

    Love this post! I’m one of those millennials and agree that for the most part we love to learn and grow. I’ve only been on the field for 9 months, but right before I left I started a Master of Divinity program online through Abilene Christian University. I also watch many TED talks, read articles covering different topics, and have even recently picked up photography as a hobby so that one day that skill could be used on the team. I never want to stop learning and growing in life. Thanks for this post, Amy!

    • Shout out to the millennials!! Love your generation. And I love that someone with such a rich theological interest is still able to invest in it while on the field. You’re speaking my language with TED talks and articles and hobbies!

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